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Footwashing - Example

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JOHN 13:12-17


1.        The Passover

John’s introduction to the foot-washing: “before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew…” [13:1].

§         πάσχα - “passover” [13:1], ‘the passover supper’; a theme developed throughout the book [2:13, 23; 6:4; 11:55; 12:1].

§         The clause alerts the readers to the passover them, inviting them to see in the foot-washing an anticipation of Jesus’ own climactic Passover act as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” [1:29]. 

2.        The Hour

Jesus’ knowledge: “when Jesus knew that his hour…” [13:1].

§         εἰδὼς - “knew” [13:1], perfect active participle, ‘to have seen and perceived and hence know’;

§         ὥρα - “hour” [13:1], ‘time or period’: “my time is not yet fully come” [7:8]; “the hour is come that the Son of man…” [12:23].

§         μεταβῇ - “depart” [13:1], singular aorist active, ‘to move from one place to another’; ‘to pass over, withdraw, depart’;

3.        The Knowledge

The knowledge that Jesus had is stated in terms of the sovereign will of God in judgement and salvation: “knowing that the Father had given…” [13:3].

§         εἰδὼς - “knowing” [13:3], perfect active participle, ‘to have seen and perceived and hence know’.

§         e;dwken - “given” [13:3], aorist active, ‘given by a superior into the hand of one who is a subordinate’; ‘to hand over’; ‘to empower’;

§         Jesus’ mission: “was come from God and went to God” [13:3].

4.        The Love

Jesus’ love: “having loved his own…” [13:1].

§         ἀγαπήσας - “loved” [13:1], aorist active participle,

§         ἠγάπησεν - “loved” [13:1], aorist active,

§         εἰς τέλος - “end” [13:1], ‘motion towards and into’; ‘completion, perfection’;

a.        True Character

John ensures that the reader grasps just how strongly this episode attests the loving character of Jesus: “the supper being ended, the devil having put…” [13:2].

§         δείπνου - “supper” [13:2], ‘main meal’; ‘evening meal’;

§         βεβληκότος - “put” [13:2], perfect active participle, ‘to throw, cast, place something somewhere’;

§         παραδοῖ - “betray” [13:2], aorist active, ‘to hand over’; ‘to deliver up’;


  1. The Foot-Washing & SERVANTHOOD

1.        The Preparation

a.        The Scene

The scene: “he rises from supper and laid aside his garments…” [13:4].

§         ἐγείρεται - “rises” [13:4], ‘to stand up’;

§         the disciples and Jesus would have been reclining on thin mats around a low table. Each is leaning on his arm, usually the left; the feet radiate outward from the table.

§         Jesus pushes himself up from his own mat.

b.        The Preparation

The preparation: “he laid aside his garments…” [13:4].

§         τίθησιν - “laid aside” [13:4], present active, ‘to put or place’; ‘to take off’;

§         τὰ ἱμάτια - “garments” [13:4], ‘outer garment, mantle’;

§         λαβὼν - “took” [13:4], aorist active participle, ‘to take hold of’ ‘to grasp’;

§         λέντιον - “towel” [13:4], ‘a linen cloth’;

§         διέζωσεν - “girded” [13:4], ‘to wrap around’; ‘to tie around’;

2.        The Action

The action: “after that he pours water into a basin…” [13:5].

§         νιπτῆρα - “basin” [13:5], ‘wash-basin’;

§         νίπτειν - “wash” [13:5], present infinitive active, ‘to wash by bathing’; ‘refers to the partial washing of individuals’; 

§         πόδας - “feet” [13:5],

§         ἐκμάσσειν - “wipe” [13:5], present infinitive active, ‘to knead out’; ‘to wipe dry’;

a.        The Practice

The reluctance of Jesus’ disciples to volunteer for the task of “foot-washing” is culturally understandable.

§         Doubtless the disciples would have been happy to wash the feet of Jesus.

§         But peers did not wash one another’s feet, except very rarely and as a mark of great love.

§         The task of “foot-washing” would normally be reserved for the lowliest of menial servants.

§         The task was usually reserved for Gentile slaves and for wives and children.


3.        The True Servant

By his actions Jesus is adopting the dress of a menial slave, dress that was looked down upon in both Jewish and Gentile circles.

§         Jesus prepares to demonstrate his claim: “I am among you as one that serves” [Luk.22:7].

a.        The Servanthood

Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians: “let this mind be in you…” [Php.2:5].  

§         φρονεῖτε - “mind” [2:5], ‘have attitude’; ‘set one’s mind on’; ‘to regard’;

                                                                                                         i.          The Son of God

Jesus is one who is by his very nature God: “Being in the form of God…” [Php.2:6].

§         ὑπάρχων - “being” [2:6], present active participle, ‘to be’; ‘I am’; ‘to be in a state’;

§         μορφῇ - “form” [2:6], ‘visual form’; ‘outward appearance’: “After that he appeared in another form unto two of them…” [Mk.16:12].

                                                                                                       ii.          The Son’s Attitude

The Son’s attitude: “thought it not robbery…” [2:5],

§         ἁρπαγμὸν - “robbery” [2:6], ‘to plunder’; ‘take something by force’; ‘hold onto something by force’;

§         ἡγήσατο - “thought” [2:6], aorist active, ‘to consider’; ‘to regard’;

§         ἴσα - “equal” [2:6], ‘equal in quantity, essence, and quantity’;

                                                                                                     iii.          The Form of the Servant

The Son’s action: “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant…” [Php.2:7].

§         ἑαυτὸν - “himself” [2:7], reflexive pronoun, ‘refers the action of the verb back to the one who performs the action’;

§         ἐκένωσεν - “made of no reputation” [2:7], aorist active, ‘to make empty’; ‘to remove the content of something’; ‘to take away the prerogatives of status and position’;

§         λαβών - “took” [2:7], aorist active participle, ‘to take hold of or grasp’; ‘to take possession of’;

§         ὁμοιώματι - “likeness” [2:7], ‘similarity’; ‘likeness of form or appearance’; “God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh…” [Rom.8:3].

§         γενόμενος - “made” [2:7], aorist middle participle, ‘to come into being’; ‘to begin to exist’;

b.        The Servant’s Work  

The Servant’s work: “being found in fashion as a man…” [2:8].  

§         εὑρεθεὶς - “being found” [2:8], aorist passive participle, ‘to discover’; ‘learn something not previously known’;

§         σχήματι - “fashion” [2:8], ‘figure, shape’; ‘outward appearance’;

§         ἐταπείνωσεν - “humbled himself” [2:8], aorist active, ‘to make low’ in a ‘spatial sense’ and in a ‘social sense’;

                                                                                                         i.          The Passion  

The Son’s self-sacrifice: “became obedient unto death…” [2:8].

§         γενόμενος - “became” [2:8], aorist middle participle, ‘to come into being’; ‘to begin to exist’;

§         ὑπήκοος - “obedient” [2:8], ‘submissive’; ‘to hear and to act upon what is heard’: “To whom (Moses) our fathers would not obey…” [Acts 7:39].

§         μέχρι θανάτου - “unto death” [2:8], ‘until’; ‘as far as’; ‘to the point of’;


Jesus takes up this position because He: “knew that his hour was come” [13:1].

§         The “laying aside” [13:4] of his garments links the passage to the sacrificial death of Jesus.

§         In humiliating himself to wash the disciples’ feet, Jesus was acting out before hand his humiliation in death.

§         Note the absolute necessity of this “washing” for the existence and maintenance of the church: “if I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me” [13:8].

§         This is a concrete action of ‘love to the limits’;

  1. The foot-washing as A MODEL OF CHRISTIAN CONDUCT [13:12-17].

Christ at length explains what was his intention in washing the feet of his disciples; or what he had said about the spiritual washing was a sort of digression from his main design. Had it not been for the opposition made by Peter, Christ would not have spoken on that subject.

1.        The Question

Jesus’ question: “Know ye what I have done to you?” [13:12].

§         γινώσκετε - “know” [13:12], present active, ‘knowledge of slow experience’;

§         πεποίηκα - “done” [13:12], perfect indicative active, ‘to act, work, perform’;

§         ὑμῖν - “to you” [13:12],

a.        Emphasis on His Dignity

Jesus proceeds to endorse their way of speaking: “ye call me Master and Lord…” [13:13].

§         φωνεῖτέ - “call” [13:13], present active,

§         διδάσκαλος - “Master” [13:13], ‘teacher’; equivalent to Rabbi; the term regularly used by disciples addressing their teachers’;

§         κύριος - “Lord” [13:13], ‘first applied to Jesus as a mark of respect’; later came to be associated with the resurrection’;

§         Jesus receives this position as a reward for his servanthood: “given a name that is above every other name…” [Php.2:9-11].

§         εἰμὶ - “I am” [13:13], present indicative active, ‘to be’; ‘to exist’;

Jesus reverses the order to emphasise his dignity: “If I then, your Lord and Master…” [13:14].

b.        The Example

The exemplary nature of the foot-washing is then unpacked: “if I then have washed your feet…” [13:14].

§         ἔνιψα – “washed” [13:14], singular aorist active,

§         ὑμῶν τοὺς πόδας – “your feet” [13:14],

§         Reference not only to the ‘act of foot-washing’ but to the ‘full significance of the act’;

§         It is this exalted Person – “Lord and Master” [13:14] – who has washed their feet.


Jesus begins with the emphasis on who He is and His position with respect to them.

§         Significance of his ‘death’ and its reference to ‘justification’ and ‘restorative grace’.

2.        The Disciples & Servanthood

The relevance of what Jesus has done is to be applied in the context of servanthood and discipleship.

a.        Servant

Jesus reminds the disciples of their servanthood: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord…” [13:16].

§         δοῦλος - “servant” [13:16], ‘slave’; hence we have ‘a service that is not a matter of choice’ but is carried out ‘by the one who is slave to an alien will, that of his owner’;

§         “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle…” [Rom.1:1]; “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ…” [Php.1:1].

§         μείζων - “greater” [13:16],

§         κυρίου αὐτοῦ - “lord” [13:16], ‘ruler’; ‘master’; ‘one who exercises authority over’; in this case ‘the slave’s master’;

b.        Messenger

The disciples’ role as messengers: “neither he that is sent greater…” [13:16].

§         ἀπόστολος - “sent” [13:16], ‘a messenger’; ‘one sent on a mission with full authority’;

§         πέμψαντος - “he that sent him” [13:16], aorist active participle, ‘cause one to depart’; ‘cause one to carry something to a destination’;

§         Jesus is the ‘one who sends’: “Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you…” [20:21]; “he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach” [Mar.3:14].

c.        Pride

Human pride is the main obstacle to true servanthood: “thought it (not) robbery to be equal…” [Php.2:5].

§         Jesus: ‘did not think that equality with God was something to be held onto jealously by force’.

§         Pride: ‘my position of dignity is something I must jealously hold on to’.

                                                                                                         i.          The Upper Room

Note the disciples’ discussion in the upper room after the last supper: “there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest” [Luk.22:24].

§         The order in society: “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them…but you shall not be so” [Luk.22:25-26].

§         The order in the church: “he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve” [Luk.22:26].


Pride hinders us from maintaining that equality which ought to exist amongst us.

3.        The Servant’s Duty  

Jesus’ exhortation: “you also ought to wash one another’s feet…” [13:14].

§         ὀφείλετε - “ought” [13:14], ‘to owe’; ‘to be in debt’; ‘to be necessary or indispensable’; ‘obligation of debt incurred’; “We have a law, and by our law he ought to die…” [19:7];  “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another…” [Rom.13:8];

a.        The Pattern

Jesus has acted to leave an example for them: “I have given you an example that you should do…” [13:15].

§         ἔδωκα - “given” [13:15], aorist active, ‘to appoint’; ‘to put something in place’;

§         ὑπόδειγμα - “example” [13:15], ‘a model or pattern’; the word suggests both example and pattern: “lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief” [Heb.4:11]; “It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these…” [Heb.9:23]; “turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly” [2Pet.2:6].

§         ἐποίησα - “have done” [13:15], aorist active, ‘to perform’; ‘to carry out an action’;

§         ποιῆτε - “do” [13:15], present active subjunctive, ‘to carry out an action’;

§         ἵνα καθὼς - “as” [13:15],

b.        The Elements

                                                                                                         i.          Forgiveness

There is the foot-washing of forgiveness: “if I wash thee not…” [13:8].

§         Jesus action in “washing” away our sins once for all: “such were some of you, but you were washed, sanctified, justified…” [1Cor.6:11].

§         Relationship forming: “reconciled to God by the death of his Son…” [Rom.5:10].

                                                                                                       ii.          Restoration

There is the foot-washing of restoration: “he that is washed needs…” [13:10].

§         Jesus action in restoring: “if any man sin we have an Advocate with the Father…” [1Joh.2].

§         Relationship maintaining: “when you are converted, strengthen the brethren…” [Luk.22:32].

c.        The Parable on Forgiveness

                                                                                                         i.          Forgiveness Experienced

Jesus’ response to Peter’s question: “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” [Mat.18:21].

§         Jesus’ question: “Jesus said unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven” [18:22].

§         Forgiveness: “lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him his debt” [18:27].

                                                                                                       ii.          Forgiveness Offered?

The same servant: “found one of his servants…Pay me what you owe” [18:28].

§         Fellows-servant’s response: “fell down at his feet, and besought him…” [18:29].

§         Servant’s response: “he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt” [Mat.18:30].


Calvin: ‘there is no brotherly love where there is not a voluntary subjection in assisting a neighbour’.

§         Christian zeal divorced from transparent humility sounds hollow, even pathetic: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” [15:15].

§         The example is not just one of humble service, but one of humble service to the point of death.

4.        The Blessing  

a.        Experience

The experience of knowing Christ’s love: “if you know these things…” [13:17].

§         εἰ - “if” [13:17], conditional particle, ‘since’; ‘because’; ‘with the indicative to express a condition of fact regarded as true or settled’;

§         οἴδατε - “know” [13:17], perfect active, ‘to have seen and perceived, and hence know’;

§         ταῦτα - “these things” [13:17],

b.        Practice

The experience of them should produce the practice: “happy are you if you do them” [13:17].

§         μακάριοί - “happy” [13:17],

§         ἐὰν - “if” [13:17], conditional clause, ‘condition of fact in the future’;

§         ποιῆτε - “do” [13:17], present active,

§         this ‘declares the eschatological happiness of those who not only “know” the significance of what Jesus has done for them, but who live in the light of it and in obedience to his call’.


The action is determinative of the relationship > Jesus and the ‘once for all action’ of forgiveness; the action maintains the relationship > Jesus and the ongoing action of forgiving;

§         Calvin: for knowledge is not entitled to be called true, unless it produce such an effect on believers as to lead them to conform themselves to their Head. On the contrary, it is a vain imagination, when we look upon Christ, and the things which belong to Christ, as separate from ourselves. We may infer from this that, until a man has learned to yield to his brethren, he does not know if Christ be the Master.

§         ‘Cha seas an cairdeas air a leth-chois’ – kinship requires to be maintained from all sides;

§         ‘Chan fhaic gradh lochd’ – love sees no fault;

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